Hundreds gathered at the Wat Lao Veluwanaram of Ontario temple this weekend to pray and celebrate the year 2559 in the Buddhist calendar.
Sandcastles are built and decorated with flags to commemorate the new year. Flags are designed with pictures of animals, each animal symbolizing a year in which someone is born.
“It’s to wish [people] a long life and to celebrate their birth year,” says Malixay McKenzie, a member of the Laotian community.
There are many interpretations to each legend. One legend says that the sandcastle legend originates from the dry season in Laos. There was a lot of sand along the riverbanks close to nearby villages. Officials from the temple will tell residents to bring sand from the riverbank. Once the sand has been piled up, monks (equivalent to Catholic priests) will bless the sand and citizens were able to decorate it. When the new year was over, monks will used the blessed sand to help build the temple.
Beauty pageants are also a big part of the celebration. Seven young girls compete in a friendly competition to become Miss Pimai Lao, which means Miss Lao New Year.
The Miss Pimai Lao legend is said to come from the story of a king. The king was a ruler who lived in the mountains. He had seven daughters. Each year, one daughter will be chosen to take care of him in the mountains.
“We pick a daughter to be on duty for that year… and this is just part of the celebration,” McKenzie says.
Other ceremonial practices such as water and food offerings are done at the temple. Lao New Year festivals are also celebrated in the United States, France and Australia.